Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable

Posted by Lila Rousselet on

How can we motivate the garment industry to respect the Paris Agreement*?

This question deeply interested a group of researchers from the Hot or Cool institute[1]:

Unfit Unfair Unfashionable

Their report was recently published and analysed by Kestrel Jenkins in her podcast Conscious Chatter on January 16th, 2023.

*The agreement was signed by 196 countries in 2015, and the goal was to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees considering preindustrial levels.

Reports offering solutions and numbers for consumers to read are a rare find. It is even more rare to find fashion related ones that take down the cliché stereotype that developing countries are responsible for the planets’ pollution.

Photo credit: Tom Fisk (Pexels)

Brace yourselves, this report is incredibly rich, and I will gladly offer a worthwhile summary.

First and foremost, this report bases its’research on the consumption habits of G20 countries[2]It studies consumers closely, without casting blame. Although the report focuses on individual garment consumption, we must understand that this alone will not suffice in reaching the goal of reducing carbon emissions. Government policies and drastic change within the industry must also play a huge part.

Some interesting data:

  • The richest 20% of the world population generate the most CO2 emissions, as showcased on the graphs presented in the report. In the UK, for example, this 20% would need to reduce its consumption by 83% to respect the Paris agreements
  • About 30% of the clothes in our wardrobes are never worn. The report therefore indicates that by reducing our annual garment consumption by 30%, we can easily save emissions without affecting our quality of lifeImproving product traceability would allow consumers to make enlightened decisions before purchasing
  • Improving product traceability would allow consumers to make enlightened decisions before purchasing

  • According to the Global Fashion Agenda, about 70% of garment industry carbon emissions occur at the production stage, 10% during transport and sale, and the final 20% are generated during the usage stage (McKinsey & Company and GFA, 2020). These numbers may vary from one report to another, but the proportions remain the same.

    Photo credit: Artificial photography (Unsplash)

    What is interesting about this report, is the concrete action that can be appointed individually, which is supported by numbers.

    - Drumroll -

    The solutions that would most reduce carbon emissions are (from the most impactful to the least):

    1. Reducing the number of new pieces bought each year (-54 KG of CO2 emissions)
    2. Using these pieces over a longer period (-21 KG of CO2 emissions)
    3. Reducing washing and drying
    4. Better textile waste management (-11 KG of CO2 emissions)
    5. Buying second-hand (-7 KG of CO2 emissions)

    These numbers are found in "Figure 7. Estimated average per-capita carbon footprint reduction impacts of low-carbon lifestyle options."


    Figure 7

    My opinion: We can notice that choosing secondhand comes in last even though it is the most promoted solution put forth by the media.

    If none of the actions offered are to be considered, then the number of items bought each year per citizen should not be above 5 to respect the Paris agreement. Our wardrobes should not contain more than 74 items (underwear and socks excluded).

    Another big piece of this report is how it sheds light on inequalities when it comes to carbon emissions. We can clearly see that those who emit the most are always part of the upper class (the rich 20%), but especially that western countries (including Australia) have the worst records…BY FAR. China, India, Indonesia, and Turkey are already located in the “fair consumption space”, the zone we should all be in in order to respect the Paris agreements.


    Figure ES2. A fair consumption space for fashion

    This brings me to speak of our responsibility as sustainability educators. 

    As the report shows, people with more meager revenue are not the ones polluting the most.

    Photo credit : Liza Summer (Pexels)

    Sustainable fashion comes with a cost. People who don’t have the means to buy a 150$ pair of jeans must not be condemned to consuming fast fashion. In the same way as the rich who own more than enough to invest, or at least, reduce, should start asking themselves questions.

    Another important fact: blaming women because of their fast fashion consumption habits will not resolve the climate crisis…but it might enlighten a few to see their power in the matter. Understanding the consequences of our habits is a great first step toward positive change. Do I really need this dress that I’ll only wear once for an event? Why do I feel awkward wearing the same outfit twice? These are all thoughts we must deconstruct for a better tomorrow.

    Figure 8. Fashion lifestyle carbon footprint in 2030 under the current trajectory and under the decarbonization efficiency scenario

    Despite all the work ahead of us, it’s reassuring to witness more and more policies worldwide being put forth to reduce the negative impacts of the garment industry and enhance corporate social responsibility. Conscious Style published an article citing the current laws and agreements[3] (January 2023): most of which exist is Europe, United-States, Bangladesh…but none in Canada for the time being. Let’s work on that shall we?


    [1] https://hotorcool.org/


    [3] https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-laws/

    Avenir Réflexion traçabilité traceability Transparence transparency

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